FIFPro decries abuse of rights in Eastern Europe

By Raf Casert

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 7 2012 8:10 a.m. MST

Serbian soccer player Dragisa Pejovic addresses the media during the presentation of the FIFPro Black Book for Eastern Europe in Brussels, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. The union representing professional footballers says players are being mistreated by clubs in Eastern Europe, in some cases leading to the greater risk of match-fixing. FIFPro says clubs in Eastern Europe show a "terrifying lack of respect" for fundamental rights of professionals, ranging from withholding wages to beatings. The trade union threatened to hold up the start of some UEFA Champions League matches if it failed to get commitments the situation would improve.

Yves Logghe, Associated Press

BRUSSELS — The global union representing professional footballers said Tuesday that clubs in much of eastern Europe are mistreating players by withholding wages and even inflicting violence, often leading to a greater risk of match-fixing.

In a wide-ranging statistical study of thousands of players in a dozen nations, FIFPro said that clubs from Greece to Russia show a "terrifying lack of respect" for the fundamental rights of professionals.

It highlighted that Poland and, to a lesser extent Ukraine, which co-host Euro 2012, are among the culprits.

FIFPro, which has threatened to hold up the start of some UEFA Champions League matches unless the situation improves, said that by refusing to pay players, clubs were directly pushing them toward match-fixing schemes as a way of financial survival.

It said that FIFA and UEFA failed to heed their calls and said it would be impossible to effectively combat match-fixing unless the federations make sure players are well-treated and paid on time.

UEFA said it had no comment on the report.

"To organize a strike internationally is of course difficult but — why not should we show the world if they don't change the situation," said FIFPro Secretary General Theo van Seggelen.

Even delaying the start of a Champions League game would play havoc with the carefully orchestrated schedules designed for maximum revenue, some FIFPro delegates added.

FIFPro said fans were often blinded by the wealth of top players and failed to see 95 percent of the players who find it tough to pay mortgages and get by.

"As long as Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid and Juventus are all doing well, unfortunately the glare of publicity does not shine on parts of the world where there are major problems," said FIFPro board member Tony Higgins.

In the survey of 3,357 players in 12 eastern European nations, representing up to 70 percent of top-division players in some nations, FIFPro found that 41.4 percent did not get paid on time, with 5 percent having to wait six months or more.

When it came to bonuses, often an essential part of players' pay, only 53.4 percent said they received them on time. Because if this financial weakness, FIFPro said players were much more prone to cooperate in match-fixing schemes.

"A player who has to wait for his money has a greater chance of being approached to manipulate a match. What's more, he is vulnerable," stated the study, titled the "Black Book Eastern Europe."

Almost 12 percent of players in the survey said they had been approached to manipulate a match and more than half of those who were approached did not have their wages paid on time.

Higgins said he was angered by UEFA and FIFA making the fight against match-fixing a top priority yet not doing enough to get players paid on time.

Almost 12 percent of players were victims of violence, in a third of cases inflicted by their own clubs. The union highlighted recent incidents in Russia where Montenegrin player Nikola Nikezic said he was beaten into terminating his contract with FC Kuban.

"What these players meet is unbelievable," he said, suggesting the results would have been even higher had many players not refused to cooperate because of fear of retribution.

The study found that 42.9 percent of players do not get their pay on time in Poland, rising to 60.7 percent for bonuses. Almost ten percent said they had been victim of racism or discrimination. It's Euro 2012 co-host Ukraine fared better, with 15.5 percent of players not being paid on time.

Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rcasert

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